TELL-TALES

Rod Heikell's very informal site on sailing around bits of the world and an eclectic collection of things nautical or nearly so.

Sailing the South Pacific

A page of general info on sailing the South Pacific from the Skylax blog, old articles and new musings.

UNDER CONSTRUCTION...reorganising the World Sailing Pages


FOR SUPPLEMENTS TO MY BOOKS GO TO THE CORRECTIONS PAGE ON THE IMRAY SITE.

 

'Crossing an ocean in a small yacht is a bit like living your life backwards. At the beginning you die, then you get fitter and younger, and then when you arrive you have an orgasmic celebration and the idea that life is just beginning.'

Douglas Graeme


Galapagos
Galapagos to Marquesas planning advice
Cruising the Marquesas
French Polynesia
The passage from Tonga to NZ
Minerva Reef
New Caledonia
Vanuatu
Port Vila Vanuatu









Galapagos

17-07-08

Galapagos Formalities

A yacht is allowed to enter at one of the ports of entry, commonly Bahia Ayora (Academia Bay) on Santa Cruz or Bahia Naufragio (Wreck Bay) on San Cristobal. Once cleared in a yacht may not go to another port without authorisation, except in special circumstances (say medical or boat repairs) and for this you will need to supply written documentation to the port captain and await his decision.

While this all sounds very officious, in fact when yachts arrive the port authorities, customs and immigration are friendly and helpful.

WHILE YOU DO NOT NEED A YACHT AGENT TO CLEAR IN AND OUT IN THEORY IN PRACTICE YOU MAY NEED TO EMPLOY AN AGENT.

In Bahia Ayora it appears to be easier to clear in without an agent than it does in Bahia Naufragio. When you arrive you need to take your boat papers, clearance from the last port, and passports to the port captain. He will fill in the requisite forms and request payment which is currently around $US8.60 per ton for the boat. You then go to the immigration police where there is a $US30 charge per person for clearing out. If you use an agent his fee should be in the $US80-100 range. Ricardo at Bahia Ayora charged us $US80 but also only charged us for 10 tons whereas Skylax is actually 14 tons.

Ricardo Arenas Sail’n Galapagos E ricardo@arenas.bz www.sailingalapagos.com VHF Ch 05, 16. Ricardo has consistently been mentioned by cruisers as a reliable agent, but there are of course others.

Once you are cleared in then you are free to wander around the island and to take trips on excursion and dive boats going to other islands. If you wish to take your own boat to another island then a national park guide must accompany you at a charge of $US100 per day. I don’t know of any yachts that did this and it works out much cheaper to go on one of the excursion boats (and they are numerous).

A trip to the highlands in Santa Cruz is well worth it and relatively cheap ($US30 pp includes taxi and guide).

Facilities

Water   Most of the water here is from reverse osmosis water plants and is expensive. Currently it is around $US40 per 100 gallons. In Bahia Ayora some of the water taxis can put a large polyethylene container in the taxi and come alongside. An electric bilge pump then pumps it into your own tanks. Alternatively you can send jerry cans ashore.

Fuel   Diesel is subsidised in the Galapagos and is very cheap (around $US1 per gallon), but you cannot buy it yourself. An agent will usually charge around $US2-2.50 per gallon. Alternatively you may be able to take jerry cans ashore and contract a taxi to go to the petrol station and fill them. He will charge $US5-10 plus the cost of the diesel.

Provisions   Most things are shipped into the Galapagos and then brought ashore on small lighters. Consequently anything shipped in, which is nearly everything except for some fruit and vegetables and a bit of beef or goat, is expensive. Often there will be shortages of items until the supply ship arrives. There is a fresh fruit and veggie market in Ayora on Tuesdays and Saturdays in the morning. It seems everything is a dollar a bag (they supply the bags) so whether you put six limes or a dozen in, it is still a dollar. Potatoes, onions, limes, passion fruit, tomatoes, peppers, and lots of other things are fresh and mostly good quality.

There is also a fish market most mornings.

Everyone lines up for a tid-bit at the fish market in Ayora.

Eating out   Eating out in the local restaurants is excellent and good value. In Puerto Ayora there is a restaurant street where you could get the set lunchtime menu for $US3-4. It usually included excellent soup, a choice of a rice dish or something like fried chicken with rice and salad, a fruit juice, and sometimes a dessert. The up-market restaurants like ‘The Rock’ in Ayora offered superb food at good prices. Alcohol is a little more expensive.

Other   Taxis, which are all twin cab pick-ups (commonly a Toyota Hi-Lux) will take you anywhere in the town limits for $US1 a go. Laundries, Internet cafes, hardware shops and tour operators for excursions.

Bahia Ayora

Ayora has the best facilities for small boat repairs, provisions and eating out. It is also a most uncomfortable anchorage and can have up to a metre of swell rolling in. The holding in coarse black sand is excellent and you will need to lay a kedge anchor off the starboard side at around 45 degrees to hold you into the swell. The anchorage is also very busy with excursion boats, particularly at turn-arounds on the weekend. The excursion boat skippers are well skilled in the fine art of anchoring in small spaces.

To get ashore water taxis run back and forth (VHF Ch 14) and there is nowhere to leave your dinghy on the dock. Costs are around 60 cents per person in the day and $1 at night. They operate 24 hours. The water taxis will also supply water and fuel and are helpful getting kedges up etc.

Bahia Naufragio

The anchorage here is much better protected and you will have a less stressy time of it. The holding is good and you can lay a kedge if you need to keep you into any swell.

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Galapagos to Marquesas planning advice

 

Currents

The trick it appears is to stay in the W-going North Equatorial Current between the E-going North Equatorial Counter Current and the E-going South Equatorial Counter Current so as to get at worst no current and hopefully some W-going current. From reports from boats on passage it appeared that staying just north of the rhumb line route between Galapagos and Hiva Oa or Nuka Hiva would keep you in favourable current for most of the way. We had some current against us for the first 3-4 days, maybe 0.2-0.3 knots of E-going current, and then after that 0.2-0.5 knots of SW-going current all the way to Hiva Oa. Boats that went south of the rhumb line did experience contrary current and usually gybed over to come back north.

Because the North and South Equatorial Counter Currents do shift staying north of the rhumb line route is not going to be an infallible rule, but as a general rule of thumb it should work. It’s unlikely that yachts will go north of the equator and so encounter the North Equatorial Counter Current although yachts on passage to the Marquesas from central America or the west coast USA would hit it at some time. The current was pretty consistently SW going on our measurements and one yacht which hove-to several times reported drifting 5 miles in 11 hours in a SW direction which would bear out our observations.

Wind

Old advice used to be go S to find consistent trades. Looking at wind reports over several months and talking to yachts on passage at different times of the year between February to June showed little difference between winds around 10-15 degrees S and winds 0-10 degrees S. If the trades were blowing then they would likely be blowing much the same at 5 degrees S as at 15 degrees S. Add to the general equation that going S means you will likely encounter adverse E-going current from the South Equatorial Counter Current and there seems every reason to take a more or less rhumb line route, or a route just to the N of it, say between 20-80 miles N depending on how you can shape your course.

From Galapagos you will likely encounter SE winds and occasionally S winds just S of the equator for around 5 days to a week. We had the wind on the quarter for nearly a week (end of May) at around 20 knots which made for a fast passage in the first week with six 180 plus days. After that the wind went lighter and became more easterly which meant running wing-and-wing much of the time, although occasionally it would go ESE and we could hold our course with the wind on the quarter.

Other stuff

We caught six fish and landed none. We got two mahi-mahi up to the transom before they got off. Two fish screamed line off the reel before they got off, one of them biting the lure in half so we probably didn’t want to know what it was. Other yachts had more luck though most had the best fishing in the first week and then less luck further on. We will try harder to land fish.

Temperatures between the equator to 5 degrees S were surprisingly cold, especially at night when you needed several layers and even wet weather gear to keep warm.

There are squalls about, some with a bit of rain, but generally no more than 20-25 knots for 10 minutes or so. A couple had 30 knots plus, but that was an exception.

Sam on Rampasad coming into Autuona at the same time as us. We had been in radio contact for most of the crossing.

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Cruising the Marquesas

From the Skylax blog 10-08-08


Taiohae on Nuka Hiva

Most yachts will head for Atuona on Hiva Oa to clear in. This means you can then cruise the other islands in the group off the wind, whereas if you went to the more northwesterly islands you would be beating into fairly big seas back down through the group. The other ports where you can clear in are Taiohae on Nuka Hiva and, less commonly, Hakahau on Ua Pou.

Formalities

You must clear in at the gendarmerie at your first port. Some yachts will make landfall on Fatu Hiva and spend time there before going to Atuona, but if the patrol boat does arrive while you are there and you haven’t cleared in, then a large fine will be levied. The days when French customs were more laid back with yachts is in the past.

EU nationals

Anyone from an EU country will not have to pay a bond. You go to the gendarmerie who will fill out the requisite form and you will be given the original to post to headquarters in Papeete and a copy you keep with the ships papers. There is no charge apart from the cost of a stamp for the form to go to Papeete (you need to go to the PO and get this). You will be given a 90 day visa for French Polynesia from the time of your arrival.

Non-EU nationals

All non-EU nationals must pay a bond equivalent to a plane ticket to their resident country. You need to either deposit a bond to that value (assessed by customs) or have a return ticket already in your possession. Bonds will be returned in Papeete or Raiatea, Huahine or Bora Bora. It’s useful to make sure that the bank you deposit the bond with has a branch in the island you are departing from.

90 day visa: EU, Australia, Monaco, Norway, Switzerland, Brazil.

30 day visa: Argentina, Canada, Japan, NZ, USA.

Once you have cleared in you will need to check in with the gendarmerie if there is one at any other port you go to until you get to Papeete. Here you need to go to the yacht clearance station at the harbour and complete formalities. This is quick and friendly. Here also you should ask for the duty free form.                                                                                           

Provisions

Provisions around the Marquesas are much dependent on the supply ship. If it has not been for a while then the islands will often start to run short of commodities. Some vegetables are grown on the islands but a surprising amount of vegetables are imported from Papeete. On Nuka Hiva where there are two small market gardens the pick-up will come down to Taiohae at around 0700-0730. Fruit can often be found in little stalls or word of mouth. The locals all have fruit trees so there is no great demand for it in the shops.

Meat will often be frozen, though there is sometimes fresh meat available. Fish of course is fresh from the fish stall on the quay, but will often all be reserved for the hotels and restaurants.

Most basic stores can be found although there will be shortages of this or that depending on what there has been a run on. Fresh baguettes are made most days although in some places (Taiohae for example) the bakery closes at 0730.

Other facilities

The island capitals will have an ATM at the local bank or the PO. Wifi can be found at the PO or for the anchorage in Taiohae on Nuka Hiva. Taxis are few and far between but the locals will often give you a lift if you stick your thumb out or not. Yacht repair facilities are virtually nil until you get to Papeete. Fuel is available in Atuona, Taiohae and Hakahau. In all these places you need to jerry can it back to the boat.

Anchoring

In nearly all of the anchorages the holding on sand or mud is excellent. In a lot of places you use a stern anchor to hold the boat into the swell. The only place I can think of where you don’t need to do this is Anaho Bay on the NE corner of Nuka Hiva.

In the major towns there is usually a bit of quay or a pier where you can tie up the dinghy. In a lot of these it is useful to use a kedge to hold the dinghy off as there can be a fair amount of surge in places that will push the dinghy onto the rough concrete of the dock.

 

See annotated Google earth maps for Atuona and Taiohae.

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French Polynesia

From the Skylax blog 26-08-08

On atolls and buoyage

Atolls

The islands that make up French Polynesia gave Darwin the ideas for his theory of how atolls form. The group has all the stages from the birth to the demise of an island and although you may think this is a bit of academic trivia, in fact understanding how atolls form gives us lots of clues for navigating around the islands. In any case its an interesting bit of trivia to dwell on as you sail around the islands – just how could that big lump that is Tahiti sink beneath its own weight and leave just an atoll, even in geological time.

The Marquesas

These are the newest islands that have been thrust up from the sea bottom through volcanic activity. If you look on the chart there are others that are still coming up either through the thrust of tectonic plates and/or volcanic activity. Actually the best example of this is in Tonga where an island keeps popping up and then disappearing through volcanic activity. There are few reefs around the Marquesas and those that exist are fringing reefs immediately off the coast. The water here is so deep a short distance off that coral can only grow in the short shallow band adjacent to the coast – coral grows from around 20 metres up.

Fringing reef at Anaho Bay on Nuka Hiva in the Marquesas

Tahiti, Moorea and the Iles Sous le Vent (Leeward Isles)

These are the intermediate stage of atoll formation. The fringing reef has grown and the islands have started to sink back into the ocean. Much of the fringing reef has become a barrier reef with deep water between the reef and the island. Deep here meaning anything from 10 to 50 metres. Tahiti and Moorea are at the beginning of this stage where the islands have started to sink and Bora Bora is the most advanced with a wide lagoon and motus (small sandy islets, usually with vegetation) on parts of the barrier reef.

Barrier reef on Papeete. The yachts have just left through the pass leading to the Tahiti YC.

Tuamotus

These are the final stage in atoll formation where the island has completely submerged leaving just the barrier reef with motus and a large lagoon inside the barrier reef. The lagoons vary in depth depending on the topography can be anything from a metre to 50 metres and more deep

It’s disturbing to think that in a short space of time (geologically speaking) man will likely see the demise of atolls with global warming. Not only will the rise in sea level submerge these motus which are only a few metres above sea level, but global warming also inhibits coral growth and all around these islands you can already see much bleached coral.

 

Buoyage

The islands are amazingly well buoyed, in fact the buoyage is better than many parts of the world I can think of.

BUOYAGE IS IALA SYSTEM ‘A’ WITH GREEN TO STARBOARD AND RED TO PORT. There are either buoys or beacons conforming to IALA system ‘A’. There are also cardinal marks in places where the buoyage might be confusing. Buoyage in the channel behind the barrier reef is in the direction such that you always have red buoys/beacons on the LAND side and green buoys/beacons on the REEF side. One small thing to be aware of is that some of the beacons are situated on a coral outcrop so don’t skim by too close to the channel markers. And remember to wear your polarised sunglasses which show up the reefs well.

The passes through the reefs will also usually have leading marks. All of the leading marks and buoys/beacons are lit and for the most part reliable, although I don’t recommend coming through the passes at night.

Around Tahiti and the Leewards you can use the passes through the reef without regard to tides. There can be currents up to a couple of knots through some of the passes and in parts of the channel behind the barrier reef, but none of that is worrying when entering.

In the Tuamotus care is needed when timing your entry through a pass. There are two commonly used options for timing your entry and exit through a pass.

  1. Slack water will be one hour after 12 hours from moonrise or moonset. Most GPS units have moonrise and moonset programmed into the unit and you can look it up there. Alternatively make a rough calculation from the actual moonrise or moonset (easily done when on passage). Or of you have an Almanac look in there.

  2. Use tide tables to find slack water. A lot of yachts have tide tables for the world either on the laptop or sometimes on a chartplotter. We use Wxtide (a free programme off the internet) and Pangolin. The Pangolin programme works well. (See www.pangolin.co.nz). Using the 12 hour moonrise/set system you may find that the time for slack water does not exactly coincide, but it will be close.

It should be remembered that much of the flood out of the passes is from the trade wind swell crashing over the windward side of the atoll and exiting through the passes which are often on the leeward side of the atoll. If the trades have been boisterous then the current out of the passes is likely to be strong. If the trades have not been boisterous then the current will be less. But remember there is still a tidal element to be considered and with boisterous trades you need to be a lot more diligent about working out the time for entry and exit from the passes.

And once through the buoyed channel you can end up here: Haapu on Huahine

See annotated Google Earth maps for the Marquesas and Tahiti

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The Passage from Tonga to NZ

Analysis Paralysis


The passage from Tonga (or Fiji or New Caledonia/Vanuatu) to NZ is the great lemming leap from the Tropics and settled Trade Wind weather into the sub-Tropics and unsettled Spring weather. Hours, days, weeks are spent analysing weather, signing up for weather routing, downloading shed-loads of GRIB files and generally just worrying about it.

There was a time when you left on passage with just a 24 hour synoptic forecast from a newspaper. Then along came stand-alone weatherfaxes and phoning the local Met office. And then came the internet, GRIB files, and lots of bad advice in forums and other cobbled together web sites. The internet and weather routing services has spawned a group of cruisers who somehow believe that you can pull down a seven day set of GRIB files and set off anticipating a smooth trip with little disruption from naughty lows, fronts, ridges and any other meteorological phenomenon that might blight your trip. Well it doesn’t work that way: weather is weather and as Bob McDavit, the NZ weather guru who helps route yachts down to NZ will tell you, forecasting is just trying to make a pattern out of chaos. We aren’t anywhere close to understanding the complex interactions of pressure systems and making sub-Tropic passages like hopping on a train or plane and getting from A to B.

Squall watch on passage to Opua

One of the problems for the Tonga to Opua passage is that lows come across from Australia every 6-7 days. Given that most yachts can’t maintain a sufficient speed to do the 1100 mile passage in 6 days, the likelihood is that you will hit a low somewhere on passage. So it’s a matter of judging how low a low is and how dirty the associated front is going to be. This is where getting weather routing from someone like Bob McDavit helps make sense of GRIB files. While GRIBS are great for the general picture, they don’t give you much of an idea what fronts, troughs and ridges are going to be like and how strong squalls will likely be.

In settled weather for the sub-Tropics the general advice is that you leave on the back of a low and keep to the west of the rhumb line, heading for somewhere around 30S and 175E before turning south for Opua or other ports on the east coast of NZ. The thinking here is that when the next low comes along you will likely have SW winds and getting a bit of westing in will help you lay a course for Opua with SW winds.

There is another consideration not too often thought about. When the lows are not around there will generally be a high and motoring through the high can take a couple of days assuming you are not going to be sitting around waiting for wind. At this time of year most boats have been in the Tropics for some time and the antifouling has lost a lot of its ‘anti’. Boats are pretty fouled up on the bottom. On Skylax we went down and scrubbed the bottom on a number of occasions and it seemed that just a few days later the bottom was dirty, I mean really dirty with fronds of growth all over it, despite our attention. The prop also fouls up badly and you need to try to get it as clean as possible. The result of all this is that you are going to be a lot slower motoring through the low in whatever leftover swell there is compared to when the boat is clean. This all increases the passage time to NZ.

A lot yachts head for Minerva Reef before setting off for NZ and this gives you a 250 odd mile start on the passage. You can then sit here are wait for a weather window for the passage from Minerva Reef to NZ.

As it turned out our weather window wasn’t all that settled. We left Tonga heading for Minerva Reef, but 150 miles out it looked OK, not great, to head on a rhumb line course for Opua. So WE did. We had a front pass over with gusts to around 35 knots though with the wind in the east if just bustled us along towards NZ. Afterwards came the SW winds and we tightened Skylax up getting nudged just to the east of our rhumb line, though secure in the knowledge we would have a couple of days of motoring and then in all probability easterlies for the final part of the passage. Bob McDavit advised us on this and provided routing info by email to our sailmail address.

Motoring through the high was slow with an awkward sea and dirty bottom, but then the promised easterlies slowly kicked in rising to 30 plus knots and times and then even went to the ENE making for a fast final part of the passage. We slowed up on the last night out so we would have a daylight approach to the Bay of Islands and Opua and sailed right down to the buoyed channel leading to Opua.

One other thing that cruisers in the Tropics encounter here is that it is cold after Tropical days and nights. All the woollies come out of the locker where they have been consigned for nearly a year and wet weather gear keeps the wind chill out. Its only Spring in NZ and sitting here in Opua it’s definitely a lot more chilly than up north.

See annotated Google Earth maps for Tonga and NZ

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Minerva Reef


Morth Minerva Reef is a useful anchorage to get a 250 mile start on the Tonga or Fiji to NZ passage. The passage through the pass on the NW side is straightforward by day although there can be up to 3 knots of current. Most of the reef appears to be free of coral heads inside the reef but procedd with care. Anchor on sand and coral in 8-15 metres under the reef depending on wind direction. Good holding on sand and coral. Good protection although at high tide there can be some slop from the swell washing over the top of the reef.

The following waypoints should be useful but use with care.

Approaches: 23°37’.00S   178°56’.20W

                     23°37’.28S  178°56’.00W

Pass:            23°37’.33S   178°55’.85W  

 

South Minerva Reef can also be used but is a little more tricky to enter with a dog-leg entrance through the coral.

 

 

For more annotated Google Earth maps go HERE


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New Caledonia

09-07-09

Isle des Pins

New Caledonia

New Caledonia along with French Polynesia is the other French Territoire autre Mer in the Pacific. It is something of a question mark for many cruisers though not to Australian and New Zealand cruisers who regularly use it as a stepping stone around the SW Pacific. Although in the Tropics it is some 20 degrees south of the equator so has a slightly cooler climate than islands closer to the equator though its seascape conforms to ideas of the Tropics: coral reefs, coconut palms and white sandy beaches with temperatures in the low 20’s C.

New Caledonia also has a large resident population of yachts and the best yacht repair facilities outside of New Zealand and Australia in this part of the world. If you have problems around the islands or en route to them then New Caledonia is the place to head for. Add to this French patisseries and baguettes, some half decent restaurants and French supermarkets with a selection of French cheeses and other goodies and New Caledonia takes on a whole new perspective.

Cruising Strategies

 

Yachts that have spent the summer in New Zealand will often include New Caledonia as part of a tour around Tonga, Fiji, and Vanuatu before heading for northern Australia. Some yachts will head directly for New Caledonia from New Zealand and then cruise around the island before heading for Vanuatu and then on to Australia.

There are various passes into the lagoon inside the barrier reef extending some 40 miles south of the island. Most yachts will use Passe de Boulari on the west side which has the iconic lighthouse Phare Amedee (53 metres high) with a leading mark in front showing the way in on 050° true. If you are late getting in you can anchor off under the islet Phare Amedee is on. The lighthouse was designed by Eiffel: he of the Parisian tower. Passage through the lagoon should be made in daylight and although electronic charts are reasonably accurate they should not be relied on absolutely. You will need a detailed paper chart as well. You can also use the main ship pass further up from Boulari, or Passe de Sarcelle on the east side or between Isle des Pins and the reefs to the west. Again you must have good detailed charts and transit the lagoon in daylight. All yachts must first go to Noumea to clear in although the authorities helpfully give you three days to leave New Caledonian waters so you can do a little cruise around the lagoon before setting off to Vanuatu or elsewhere.

There are ample cruising opportunities around New Caledonia, which is the fourth largest island in the Pacific after North and South Island in New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. A barrier reef encloses most of the island encompassing a large body of water to the south. Its said it is the largest lagoon in the world though bit of PR is difficult to reconcile when you have huge lagoons in the Tuamotus and the body of water enclosed by the Great Barrier Reef off the east coast of Australia. There are also lots of bays and harbours along the west and east coast of the main island and also good cruising around the Loyalty group to the east. There is enough here to keep many occupied for a season or more.

Seasons and weather

 

New Caledonia conforms to the seasons for the other South Pacific islands with the cyclone season running from November to May in the southern hemisphere summer. A lot of local boats stay in New Caledonia for this season with pretty good shelter in the inner harbour at Port Moselle and a possible hurricane hole at Baie de Prony. Most yachts will be cruising New Caledonia in the southern hemisphere winter from May to November.

Although the trades blow over New Caledonia in the winter, you also get a fair number of westerlies. You also get small depressions (yes, you do get depressions outside of the cyclone season although they do not develop into Tropical Storms) which can bring gales and rain to New Caledonia.

Ashore

 

Noumea has several large supermarkets and an excellent local market with fresh fruit and vegetables and good fish and prawns close to Port Moselle. There are other smaller shops and all the infrastructure you would expect of a small city of 100,000. There are laundries nearby and internet cafes in Noumea. You can refill gas bottles (including Camping Gaz). There is a large hospital and good local clinics. New Caledonia is not a malaria area.

There are flights from Australia, New Zealand and Fiji to New Caledonia and flights to Paris.Port Moselle Marina Photo Lu Michell

Market near Port Moselle Photo Lu Michell

Facilities

Good yacht repair facilities and a yard at Noumea. You can get stainless steel welding done, engine repairs and sail and canvas work. Good chandlers in Noumea and at the boatyard and also good hardware shops. Spares can be quickly flown in from NZ and Australia. Outside of Noumea there is a large Zone Industriale where there are a whole range of services and shops including large hardware shops like Mr Bricolage. Here you source hard to get items although you will need to take a taxi or get a hire car or use the local bus service.

Isle des Pins - the tall thin pines like telegraph poles are the ones referred too)

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Vanuatu

From the Skylax blog 07-08-09


Also called ‘The Great Cyclades’ (Bougainville in 1768), ‘The New Hebrides’ (Cook in 1774) and the Sandwich Islands (by Bligh on his epic small boat trip). This chain of islands is something of a crossroads in the SW Pacific with boats from New Zealand on the Barefoot Circuit coming across from Tonga and Fiji before curving down to New Caledonia and then back to NZ and boats en route to Australia and SE Asia leaving from here to Cairns or up to the Solomons.

The island chain has never been a homogeneous group and although basically Melanesian, different languages were spoken on different islands and even between different villages. The islands had a reputation for cannibalism and savagery right up into the 20th century, but today the inhabitants of the different islands are a remarkably gentle and approachable people.

The recent history of the islands was a bizarre rule by both the French and the English who established different institutions to govern the islands in a complicated bipartisan way. The islands became independent in 1980 and the establishment of a common language, Bislama, a variation on Pidgin English, united the villages and islands under a common thread that soothed over old feuds and disputes. The language is quite easy to get a handle on once you hear it and I include some of my favourite phrases below.

Thank You   Tankyu tumas

To hit   Killem

To hit and kill something   Killem ded finis

To ruin   Baggerap

Piano   Wan bigfala bokis, I gat tith, sam I waet, sam I blak, taim yu killem I singalot.

Cruising strategies

Yachts on the Barefoot Circuit will often head for Vila on Efate from Fiji or Tonga. Yachts heading up from New Caledonia will often clear in at Tanna to see the live volcano there before heading on up to Vila.

Yachts must clear in first at a port of entry which are currently Lenakel on Tanna, Vila on Efate, Luganville on Espiritu Santo and Sola on Vanua Lava in the Banks Islands. If you are heading for Tanna then you can go to Port Resolution and a pick-up truck will take you over the island to Lenakel (for a fee). Outside of Vila and Luganville ensure you get receipts for all transactions to present at Vila or Luganville. Yachts must also clear out from a Port of Entry and also get permission to cruise in the different groups of islands. Clearing in and out and permits cost close to $US200 in 2009.

Despite these costs these islands are a huge cruising area and most yachts will be lucky to see a tenth of the anchorages in a cruising season. These are places that take you back in time and the heavily wooded islands and outlying reefs are just stunning. Many of the villages are isolated places where the locals welcome any cruising yachts and will want to trade for fruit and vegetables. Trading goods vary from place to place, but exercise books and pencils, T-shirts, oil, fish hooks and line, balloons (for the kids) and just about anything you have will be welcome. The villagers are not offended if you don’t have items.

Seasons and weather

It's the Tropics so it rains...OK

Weather patterns here are much as for New Caledonia except being further N temperatures are more tropical. The islands lie in the cyclone belt and are hit by cyclones so most yachts leave for the cyclone season from November to May, although the boatyard in Vila has tie-downs and is reported to be a secure place to leave a yacht in the cyclone season – check with your insurer.

Like New Caledonia you do get depressions producing westerlies in the normal cruising season and you need to plan ahead to find shelter if westerlies are forecast.

Ashore

Port Vila on Efate has by far the best shopping and yacht facilities in Vanuatu. There is laundry, wifi, supermarket and fresh fruit and veggie market, yacht repair facilities and a boatyard. There is also a fuel dock and a gas filling plant. After that Luganville is virtually the only other place where you will be able to get provisions and fuel and water. Around the islands you can always find fruit and vegetables and the locals will often row out in their outrigger canoes to trade. There are a few local shops in places, but don’t count on getting too much in these.

Facilities

Vila is the centre for yacht repairs and also has the only viable yard for hauling. In Luganville basic repairs can be made and there are a few hardware shops. Spare parts can be flown in from NZ or Australia.

Reading

Rocket Guide to Vanuatu (CD)

Yacht Miz Mae’s Guide to Vanuatu Nicola Rhind

Vanuatu Bob Tiews & Thalia Hearne South Pacific Cruising Series

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Port Vila Vanuatu

07-08-09

Vila. Yachting World moorings behind Iririki Island.

Formalities  

Once in the approaches to the harbour give Yachting World on Ch 16 a call. They are open 0830-1200 and 1300-1700. Anchor off near the very small quarrantine buoy in the outer harbour. Yachting World organise the quarrantine officials to come out to you. You can then come into the inner harbour behind Iririki Island and go on a mooring before completing immigration and customs.

Immigration is in town and customs are at the commercial wharf in Pontoon Bay. The easiest way to get to customs is by the share taxis (mini-buses) that run everywhere (150 Vatu per person). Costs in 2009 were around $US40 for Quarrantine, $US40 for Immigration and $80 for customs if you are clearing out of Vanuatu. To visit the other islands you need to get permission and the paperwork from customs which will usually be in a sealed envelope with lots of stamps on it.

Yachting World

Yachting World have moorings ($US12 per day), a quay where you can go stern-to with a mooring ($US18 per day), a dinghy dock, rubbish disposal, laundry and an excellent restaurant and bar.

There are around 4 metres least depth through the passage over the reef and 30 metres air height under the overhead power cables to Iririki. (If you are near the limit call Yachting World).It is very deep for anchoring here (arounf 30-45 metres) except close to the northern reef. Yachting World will usually send a boat out to guide you in over the reef and help you tie up to a mooring.

Vila town has ATM's, supermarkets and smaller shops, fresh fruit and veggie market, restaurants and cafes. You can get gas bottles filled at Origin Gas in the S of Paray Bay. The easiest way is to take the bottle down in the dinghy where there is a rough pontoon to tie up to off the gas refilling plant.

The boatyard, 17 44S Boat Yard, is in Pontoon Bay past the commercial wharf.

07-08-09

Port Vila

Annotated Google Earth

For more Annotated Google Earth maps go HERE


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